I wanted to write about Burnout because during my career as an occupational health nurse I have seen so many employees with this condition and I too have experienced this. Burnout is “a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion caused by long term involvement in situations that are emotionally demanding.”
Symptoms of burnout
In my clinic the employees I have seen over the years were very often women and had a family as well as a job which required caring for others: social workers, teachers, nurses etc. Their jobs were stressful, and involved working long hours usually over an eight hour day and very little time for a break. They often took work home with them every day, which meant they couldn’t have any time for relaxation or exercise. Their life involved work, family, eat, sleep, repeat.
They usually had been signed off sick by their GP with symptoms of stress : low mood, poor appetite, poor sleep, tearfulness, and poor concentration. It wasn’t until we assessed their condition and reflected on what had been happening in their lives over the last few months that we established nothing had particularly triggered their condition, they had quite simply pushed their bodies and minds to the limit and were mentally and physically exhausted, so the body and mind begins to shut down to protect itself.
The mental and emotional problems tend to occur before the physical problems. Often people will have more tears, excess worry, negativity and irritability. I found I went from a confident bubbly extrovert to someone who was tearful, anxious and withdrawn. I woke up in the middle of the night every night for several months, which then lead onto physical exhaustion. I love exercise but just didn’t have the energy to do anything, often needing naps at the end of my working day. I always recommend people get a check up at their doctors to rule out any underlying medical problems.
How to get better
Take some time off work.
Reach out to friends and family; let them know how you are feeling.
Be more sociable with your coworkers when you do go back to work.
Limit your contact with negative people.
Find new friends. If you don’t feel that you have anyone to turn to, it’s never too late to build new friendships and expand your social network.
Connect with a cause or a community group that is personally meaningful to you.
Make gentle exercise a priority, even though you maybe very tired just 10 minutes per day will help.
Aim to exercise for 30 minutes or more per day - or break that up into short, 10-minute bursts of activity. A 10-minute walk can improve your mood for two hours.
What you put in your body can have a huge impact on your mood and energy levels throughout the day.
Cut down on sugary foods and carbs as they quickly lead to a crash in mood and energy.
Reduce caffeine, trans fats, and foods with chemical preservatives or hormones.
Eat more Omega-3 fatty acids to give your mood a boost : Fatty fish (salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, sardines), seaweed, flaxseed, and walnuts.
Avoid nicotine it is a powerful stimulant which leads to higher, not lower, levels of anxiety.
Drink alcohol in moderation. Alcohol temporarily reduces worry, but too much can cause anxiety as it wears off.
It can be a long road back from burnout and recovery means having a deeper understanding of your limits and what replenishes you. Taking care of yourself and making your needs a priority.
Consider mindfulness and meditation to relax your mind, there are many apps and online resources to explore. Mind and the NHS Moodzone are also a useful source of online support and information.
Karen Mills Occupational health nurse Director of Zen Occupational Health Ltd
Resources and references:
Pines A, Aronson E. Career burnout. New York: Free Press, 1988.Google Scholar
Stress Management: Enhance your well-being by reducing stress and building resilience – Harvard Medical School Special Health Report
The Road to Resilience – American Psychological Association
Job Burnout: How to Spot it and Take Action – Mayo Clinic